The precarious situation in which the Aquarius and its passengers found themselves is a consequence of EU member states’ failure to manage migration in a strategic and coordinated manner, where member states beyond those receiving new arrivals are part of the solution.
It is also a reflection of member states not looking beyond Europe’s shores, to address comprehensively the horrific conditions that drive people to the sea in the first place.
The question is not how to stop migration but how to manage it. And in particular, how to ensure that refugees who are forced to move are given the protection that they are entitled to under international law.
We propose four priorities
First, EU member states should be smarter in the way they manage their borders.
We have seen that EU-backed border security measures within west and north Africa, aimed at preventing migrants getting to Libya, risk disrupting longstanding patterns of local migration upon which people rely for income for their families, and which contribute to the health of local economies.
And they should put human safety at the heart of border management, ensuring that migrants are protected. Recent EU work to disrupt smuggler networks has left regular cross-border and seasonal workers vulnerable, after their journeys were disrupted by the authorities.
Second, and in advance of signing a new UN-led Global Refugee Compact, EU leaders should act – at last – to establish safe and legal pathways to protection in Europe, for refugees fleeing violence and persecution.
The EU-wide refugee resettlement scheme, currently in the final stages of the EU policy-making process but at risk of stalling, would be one such measure. The long-awaited but deadlocked reforms to the ‘Dublin Regulation’ are crucial to ensure a fairer distribution of responsibility across Europe.
The remittances these people send home are also vital to so many African families. But existing legislation, such as the EU Seasonal Workers Directive, is not working as intended, and pilot projects proposed in the EU’s review of the European agenda on migration are yet to be implemented. Sensible changes in this area would give EU member states more control of migration, not less.
Finally, EU member states need to double down on efforts to improve safety and stability in Libya.
The fact is that the majority of people who travel to Libya are in search of work inside Libya: according to recent research, only one in five people who migrate to Libya ultimately attempt to cross the Mediterranean sea.
He expressed utter horror when he described how women are treated. “If you are a woman, they will do everything to you. They will beat you, they will rape you, they will molest you.”
The significant numbers of people transferred out of the detention centres in recent months through the voluntary humanitarian return programme and the emergency transit mechanism are, of course, positive but much more remains to be done.
More pledges from EU member states to support the emergency transit mechanism are urgently needed, and the slow, cumbersome process must be speeded up.
With over 1.1 million people in need and over a thousand militias vying for territory, every effort must be made to find a peaceful resolution to this crisis.
We welcome the recent agreement by all Libyan parties to work, together with the UN, towards parliamentary elections in December.
We urge EU member states to come together to build on this momentum, in a joint diplomatic strategy to drive positive change in Libya – first by ensuring the UN moves quickly to host an inclusive political conference to pave the way for UN-backed elections including ensuring the necessary technical, legislative, political and security conditions are in place.
On board the Aquarius there were more than one hundred children travelling without their parents, and seven pregnant women. If EU leaders fail to be strategic and coordinated in their migration and foreign policy, these are the people who suffer the consequences.
Imogen Sudbery is head of Brussels office at the International Rescue Committee